SEO & Analytics: 4 Useful Ways To Assess Your Organic Traffic

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When you set out to build your site content, keyword research and educated guesses about keyword relevance are often necessary initial steps.

But nothing trumps actual data on how users engage with your site.

When your site has been live for a significant amount of time your analytics offer a wealth of useful information.  For an SEO campaign (or any other marketing campaign, for that matter), the best adjustments you can make will be those based on user data.

Like anything else, there’s a wrong and a right way to look at this data.

Here are five “right” ways to view your traffic in the aim of evaluating and improving your SEO.

1) Remember: drops in traffic aren’t inherently negative

Nobody wants to see their search traffic going down.  It makes us cringe.  But it’s not always a bad thing.

Google rolls out algorithm updates pretty frequently.  If you’re tracking your rankings even casually you know this.

If your traffic drops, you’re unlikely to be pleased.  But reserve your judgment until you’ve really looked at the data.

What if they’re just getting it better?  What if the latest change had the effect of giving you less traffic but more relevant traffic?

In other words: take a look at your bounce rates, pages per visit, time on site, etc. before you decide you’ve lost (or gained) important ground. You may be surprised.

2) Pair up your metrics

We often have a pretty simple and straightforward way of looking at a given metric.  Example: “a high bounce rate is bad.”

But a single metric by itself rarely tell us everything we need to know (see #1 above).  A higher bounce rate can actually reflect a positive change.

If your aim is to bring in users who are more likely to be engaged by your content, then an increasing bounce rate combined with an increasing number of pages viewed per visit may be positive.  The traffic source (read: keyword) users arrive through plays an important role here.

Carlos del Rio and Jeff Noethen have a great book, User Driven Change, that covers, among other things, different ways pairing metrics can help you get a much more accurate sense of how users are engaging your site.  The methods are certainly not exclusive to organic traffic, but they apply well.  Feel free to use the code miketek at checkout to save $5 on your copy of the book or PDF (first 25 only).

3) Take note of your rankings with a grain of salt

There’s been a lot of talk over the last few months about rankings and the argument that “they’re dead” due to the emergence of localized and personalized search results.

The thing is: they are, and they aren’t.

They’re dying as a gauge of success for a SEO campaign – but not for the millions of people who use search every day.

To get a sense of the fluctuations already being caused by personalized search, get the whitepaper from Reliable SEO (released in Q4 2008) on their personalized search study.  Rankings are less chaotic than you might think. It’s likely, though, that Google will emphasis personalization more in the future.

Rankings are, to be sure, becoming harder to measure effectively – and it may become nearly impossible in the future.  For now they’re still worth checking (ideally across multiple data sources), but ranking reports are essentially useless on their own.  Again, you’ve got to tie this and any other measurement to your goals – and combining them with other metrics is key.

4) Identify the most valuable keywords for individual pages

Take a look at the entrance keywords for your individual pages (start with the higher-level and more central pages).  Sort these by metrics that match up with your goals.  Check your rankings with a tool like’s Rank Checker.  If you’re running Google Analytics, this mod posted by Andrй Scholten at is great.  Use external keyword tools in combination with your referral data to extrapolate search usage.

Look for keywords that have proven to bring in targeted traffic, get decent search usage levels and for which you’re not quite ranking “above the fold” yet. This data should inform your next round of site revisions.

The bottom line here is that none of your metrics have any real significance outside their relationship to your goals.  A trend, positive or negative, almost always requires a closer look before you can pass judgment safely on what it means and what you should do in reaction to it.

The goal of SEO isn’t simply to “build your traffic.”  It’s to build your business.  The goals of your SEO campaign, then, need to align with how your website fits into your business model.  Keeping this in mind whenever evaluating your traffic details can save you a lot of wheel spinning and make your adjustments, and their results, much clearer.

This guest post by Mike Tekula of Unstuck Digital.

Mike Tekula
Mike Tekula helps small businesses leverage the web, and search engines, to grow.
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  • Carlos del Rio

    Good advice Mike. I particularly like point number two 😉

  • MikeTek

    I had a hunch you’d like that one. Seriously good book, though – psyched I’ve got my copy right here.

  • Josh Millrod

    Some of the most interesting work I’ve done was in conjunction with an analytics company. They understand the inherent value of data and can contextualize it much more than most SEOs.

    The further you dive down the rabbit with analytics, the better you’ll be as an SEO. You’ll be able to create content based on the highest performing queries and lay it out in a way that people will interact with and share.

    Great post.

  • Derek Kean

    Thanks for the pointers, it is always refreshing to hear what follows point #4. We are working to build your business not your traffic. The best way (if it is relevant) is to show the number of conversions increased even with lower traffic.

    If more subscribers/buyers are acting, and your traffic is down 30%, something is working very well. That makes dealing with clients a touch easier.


  • Steen Öhman

    Check the indexing of your site … how fast are your pages indexed …

    Do you have server problems that prevents fast indexing, and drive away the users of the site.

    Webmaster tools have a good indication of the server conditions … and there is a correlation between load time and traffic volume.

  • Erdal Gul

    Hello Mike,

    Great article ! It’s a nice refresh that SEO is about building a business and not only building traffic.


  • oussama

    It is great that we can realize a good trafic while our business is progressing. Thnx for the informations

  • Debbie

    Any advise for a small business on a budget trying to better their SEO. These large firms are costly and there are no guarantees. I have a good page rating, registered w/ google, done the key word and metatag thing…just kind of winging it.

  • Mike Tekula

    Hi Debbie,

    You seem to be ranking pretty well from where I’m sitting. Searches like “Springfield MA Laser” or “Springfield MA Lasik” turn your site up in multiple places – both at the top of the regular organic results and in the local SEO “10 pack.”

    I’d probably suggest taking a closer look at your conversion rate and seeing if you can’t create a more streamlined path for the user to fill out your contact form. Sometimes it’s as simple as putting together a valuable limited-time offer and giving them a nice, big call-to-action button.

  • Luke

    “….They’re dying as a gauge of success for a SEO campaign – but not for the millions of people who use search every day.”

    this is a very good point, you can still get good traffic from seasonal rankings or if you cover a lot of terms on your site

    all depends on what you are aiming to achieve really

  • Internet Strategist

    I’m really glad that you did this guest post because I didn’t know about your blog until I went searching for it after reading this. I have since shared this and other posts you’ve done at cliKball, Twitter and FriendFeed so that others know about you too.

    I’m doing a series of blog posts on understanding Google Analytics suitable for anyone – even those with no computer or analytics backgrounds. I hope you’ll drop by and add your expertise. Feel free to leave relevant links in any related posts you find. (Akismet may detain them but I’ll be along to rescue them, usually within the day.)

  • Mike Tekula

    Well I’m really glad you enjoyed the post – thank you!

    I’ll certainly stop by and chime in where I can for your upcoming post series on GA. I think it’s a good idea for a series – there’s a real need for this knowledge, especially for small businesses.

  • Keely H.

    Hi Mike,
    I really enjoyed reading your post and have subscribed to your RSS feed so I won’t miss any future entries.

    I’ve been searching all over for an answer to a low quality organic traffic question and was hoping you or perhaps one of your readers could answer it.

    I’ve got an annoying situation on the e-commerce site I’m working on. The site, which is a shoe store has really good ranking on the sizing chart page, but the page has a 92% bounce rate. On the one hand the page gets really good traffic such that the 8% of people we are retaining amounts to a couple hundred, but on the other hand I’m worried the high bounce rate might be hurting the rankings of product pages that do have higher conversion rates. Should I cut off a significant stream of traffic to the site by using a no follow tag or should I try to improve the conversion rate on the sizing chart page by attempting to incorporate sales pitches and links to product pages into the sizing chart page text? My worry with the latter strategy is that it might turn off customers already on the site who are using the sizing chart page for its intended purpose, to convert their U.S. shoe size to a European shoe size so they can buy a shoe (from us). Any suggestions on how to balance the desire for more traffic and lower bounce rates when dealing with organic traffic from keyword terms that are proven not to convert browsers into customers?

    Thanks again for providing such an excellent SEO information resource.

  • Mike Tekula

    Hi Keely,

    I’d like to answer your question, but I’d rather not do so here so as to add to the already bulky quality of this comment thread. Instead, I’ll email you.


  • Server Support

    Thanks for valuable information. We have to take care of daily analytics, daily analysis for keywords , from where we are getting visitors, on what page they are coming. By doing so we can track records and increase our visitors

  • Paul R

    Yes, quality traffic is definitely more important that quantity traffic. Getting both is bliss. 🙂

  • DM Patten

    Mike –

    Great post!
    Seems that #4 would be a “no brainer”, but I’ve had to explain this one more than once to a client…..

    Thanks again


  • Mike Tekula

    Thanks. In my experience what seems like a “no brainer” to some of us is often completely missed by others.

  • Terry Harmon

    I would definitely have to agree with Derek…conversions are where the money is. If a client is more concerned about traffic fluctuations than whether or not the site’s users are engaged in the content, you should definitely educate them.